Switzerland (officially Confoederatio Helvetica) is a
nation located in the center of Europe with total area of
approximately 41,293 square kilometers. Its neighbors are, to the
north, Germany (states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria), to the east, Austria and Liechtenstein, to the south, Italy and
to the west, France.
Introduction to Researching Swiss Ancestors
- How do I get started?
Try to find out as much as possible in your own country.
It can only be emphasized again: many names which may
sound quite exotic in your country may be very common in
Switzerland - just the name and a family tradition that
your ancestor came from Switzerland will not be
sufficient to get started over here (well, there are
always exceptions to any rule - but try not to depend on
- What is the Familiennamenbuch ?
To understand this you should first be familiar with the
pecularities of Swiss
citizenship. The Swiss Surname Book lists the family
names of all Swiss citizens existing in 1962, sorted by
county and village, indicating since when this
citizenship exists. It is the first book to consult when
you "suspect" you have Swiss ancestors; even if
you are sure you know where your ancestors came from,
it's a good idea to check here, so that your information
You will not find the name if the family
has become extinct before 1962 - so if you don't find the
name you are looking for, this is no proof that your
ancestors were not Swiss; it may also be possible that
you have looked for an incorrect (possibly Americanized)
spelling. If the name is a profession (e.g. Shoemaker) a
dictionary may give you the right clue (in this case:
Schuhmacher). The Familiennamenbuch is available
on FHL microfiche 6053507 as well as in book form at
larger Family History Centers and libraries.
- What is the Historisch-Biographisches
Lexikon der Schweiz?
In this historical-biographical dictionary of
Switzerland, you will find comments on larger families
(including extinct ones, not mentioned in the Familiennamenbuch),
often giving details on important family members. The HBLS
is available from at your local Family History Center (films
1181541-3 or fiche 6000814).
- What is a "Familienschein"
This is a copy of a civil record, which can be requested
from a Zivilstandamt. It will usually be available
for Swiss citizens (see Swiss
citizenship) alive after 1876 - occasionally also
Today's Civil Registry System in Switzerland
was set up in 1876. At the time data was collected
retrospectively to a different extent in different
communities - if you are lucky you may get information
from the "Zivilstandsamt" of the
"Bürgerort" of your ancestors dating back to
the early 19th century. If you are a direct descendant
(it may be a good idea to include some proof when writing
to them, e.g. a copy of an immigration record, or a copy
of your passport if you are a holder the requested
surname) they will issue a "Familienschein" for
(usually) a married couple, giving vital statistics on
the couple, at least birth information on all children,
and (if still within their time-frame) some info on the
couple's parents: you could then request a Familienschein
for the parents. There will usually be a fee for the
Familienschein: depending on the number of entries
(children) and the Kanton (county), probably between $30
and $50. It may be a good idea to enquire first,
especially if you hope for several Familienscheins (also,
include an International Reply Coupon (from your post
office) with your query to cover return postage).
According to the new Civil Registry Ordinance (since 1
Jan 1998) a "Familienschein" will be issued to
direct descendants only. You first have to get a
permission from the cantonal civil registration
this permission will only be granted if you can prove
that you are a direct descendant. In the meantime a
centralised Swiss Civil Registry database is being
discussed (see NZZ article of Jan 1999 in German).
- My ancestors emigrated before 1876 - now what ?
The obvious first source for these cases will be church records. sufficient to get
started over here (well, there are always exceptions to
any rule - but try not to depend on this).
- What other information is available at my FHC ?
Among the many are the genealogies collected by Julius
Billeter (1869-1957). This collection has been
microfilmed (16 mm, 23 reels) and is available from the
FHL (film numbers 0193466-0193488). If you are lucky you
might find information dating back to the 16th century.
You have to be aware, of course, that this is only a
secondary source -- it makes searching church records
much easier, when you know what you are looking for! But
for serious research you will want to check the church
There is another collection by Dr.
A. Lotz on Basel families (films 1196916+7).
Complete descendants lists of usually fairly famous
families will be found in "Schweizerisches
Geschlechterbuch" (films 1573100 - 103).
- Are there any other published genealogies ?
Yes, a bibliography of all
known Swiss genealogies has been compiled by Mario von
- Where do I find more hints ?
German Genealogy: Tips for
Researchers is a collection of basic hints for
genealogy in German speaking countries : much of it may
also be applied to Switzerland.
Switzerland consists of 26 Cantons
and Half-Cantons, respectively.
The Protestant church in Switzerland is organized by canton (Kantonalkirchen
= "Cantonal Churches").
The Roman Catholic Church comprises 6 episcopates:
- Basel: Cantons Aargau, Basel-Landschaft,
Basel-Stadt, Bern, Jura, Luzern, Schaffhausen, Solothurn,
Thurgau, and Zug.
- Chur: Cantons Graubünden, Schwyz (not including
Einsiedeln), Urserental (in Canton Uri), Fürstentum
Liechtenstein. The episcopate also comprises the
administration of Cantons Glarus, Nidwalden and Obwalden,
Zürich and the remainder of Uri.
- Lausanne/Genf/Fribourg: Cantons Fribourg, Genf,
Neuchâtel, and Vaud (not including Aigle which belongs
to Sitten, or La Cure, Landes and Le Cernillet, all of
which belong to the French episcopate of St-Claude). Also
includes Dappental in France.
- Lugano: Canton Ticino.
- Sitten (Sion): Canton Valais (not including
St-Gingolphe) and Aigle (in Canton Vaud).
- Sankt Gallen: Canton Sankt Gallen. The episcopate
also includes the administration of Appenzell (Ausser-
In the 17 and 18th centuries, most of Switzerland
predominantly belonged to one of these two major churches. In
some of the "mixed" cantons it should be kept in mind
that they were founded only as late as early 19th century, i.e.
didn't exist then. Predominantly Protestant were
Appenzell-Ausserrhoden, Basel (both), Bern, Genf, Neuchâtel,
Schaffhausen, Vaud, and Zürich. Predominantly Roman Catholic
were Appenzell-Innerrhoden, Fribourg, Jura, Luzern, Nidwalden,
Obwalden, Schwyz, Solothurn, Ticino, Uri, Valais, and Zug. Mixed
were Aargau (more Protestant), Glarus, Graubünden, Sankt Gallen,
and Thurgau (more Protestant).
Over time, some shifts occurred, and in particular, further
mixing. By 1930 the ratios (Protestant:Catholic) were roughly as
follows: Aargau (1.3:1), Appenzell-Ausserrhoden (7:1),
Appenzell-Innerrhoden (1:22), Basel-Land (3:1), Basel-Stadt
(2:1), Bern (6:1), Fribourg (1:6), Genf (1.2:1), Glarus (2:1),
Graubünden (1.1:1), Luzern (1:7), Neuchâtel (6:1), Nidwalden
(1:40), Obwalden (1:25), Schaffhausen (4:1), Schwyz (1:17),
Solothurn (1:1.6), Sankt Gallen (1:1.5), Thurgau (2:1), Ticino
(1:17), Uri (1:17), Valais (1:27), Vaud (5:1), Zürich (3:1), Zug
[Return to top of Page]
- Moos, Mario von, Bibliographie fur
Familienforscher: Verzeichnis geschichtlicher
Handbucher, gedruckter Quellen und Hilfsmittel
= Table des manuels d'histoire, des sources et
des ouvrages auxiliaires pour genealogistes
Basel: Schweizerische Gesellschaft fur
Familienforschung ; Muttenz:
Schriftenverkaufsstelle, W. Hug, c1984. 215 p. ;
21 cm. [Bibliography for Family Researchers /
Index of historical manuals, printed sources and
help methods. Use this book only if you cannot
access the next book listed below as this one has
been superseded and the latter is much easier to
- Moos, Mario von, Bibliography of Swiss
genealogies / [American ed.] Camden, ME:
Picton Press, 1993. viii, 839 p.: map ; 24 cm.
[Published or at least archived genealogies have
been collected by Mario von Moos for many years.
This two-volume book might be available at your
local FHC or a large library.]
- Moos, Mario von, Familiengeschichtliche
Bibliographie der Schweiz (2 volumes) [this is
the German language edition of the above Bibliography
of Swiss genealogies, available from the SGFF]
- Moos, Mario von, Ergänzungsband zu Familiengeschichtliche
Bibliographie der Schweiz. Füllinsdorf: SGFF, 2003. 397 S.
(Supplement to the above, also available from the SGFF]
- Billeter, Julius, collected genealogies from the
period 1869-1957. [This collection has been
microfilmed (16 mm, 23 reels) and is available
from the FHL (film numbers 0193466-0193488).]
- Bruckner, Albert, Archivalische Quellen für
den Familienforscher (in der Schweiz)
[Archival Sources for the Family Researcher in
- Faust and Brumbaugh, Swiss Emigrants in the
18th Century to the American Colonies,
Zürich (1734-1744), Bern (1706-1795) and Basel
(1734-1794) archives. 2,300 names.
- Lotz, Dr. A., collected genealogies on Basel
families [FHL microfilms 1196916-7]
- Meier, Hanni, Mohr, Register of Swiss
Surnames, 1991. Three volumes, 2,082 pp.
[Tells canton and village where each Swiss
surname first appeared: I: 1600-1800, II:
1800-1900, III: 1900-1962.
- Merz, Walther, Wappenbuch der Stadt Baden und
Bürgerbuch, Aarau 1920. [Book of the Crests
and Citizens of the City of Baden]
- Moos, Mario von und Mitarbeiter, Ahnen und
Ahnen Statistik Computer-Programme zur Verwaltung
von Daten der Familienforschung [computer
manuals describing the usage of the genealogy
software packages Ahnen and Ahnen
- Moos, Mario von, Familiengeschichtliche
Forschungen im Kanton Zürich / ein Wegweiser zu
den Quellen / Uster: Verein der Freunde der
Paul Klaui-Bibliothek, 1988. 123 p.: ill.; 21 cm.
[Family History Researches in the Canton of
Zurich / a guide to the sources]
- Moos, Mario von, Grundlagen der
Familienforschung in der Schweiz (Verbesserte
Neuauflage, soeben erschienen) [Fundamentals of
Family Research in Switzerland]
- Moos, Mario von, Verzeichnis der
pfarramtlichen Register des Kantons Appenzell
Ausserrhoden / mit einem geschichtlichen
Überblick über die Entwicklung des
Zivilstandswesens bis 1875 / Basel:
Schweizerische Gesellschaft fur
Familienforschung, c1981. 63 p.; 21 cm. [Index to
the parish registers of the canton of Appenzell
Ausserrhoden / with historical overview of the
development of civil registers as far as 1875]
- Schrader-Muggenthaler, Cornelia, Swiss
Emigration Book, volume I, circa 7,400
persons. Solothurn, Basel, Aargau.
- Staehlin, Wilhelm Richard, Wappenbuch der
Stadt Basel (mit Stammtafeln 1563-1692),
Basel 1918-1929. [Book of the Crests of the City
- Familiennamenbuch der Schweiz / Repertoire des
noms de famille suisses / Repertorio dei nomi di
famiglia svizzeri / Cudesch dals nums da famiglia
de la svizra / Register of Swiss surnames,
Schulthess Polygraphischer Verlag, Zürich, 3.
Aufl. 1989; Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1995, 3
vol., xvii, 2084 p. ; 24 cm. [Also available as
FHL microfiche 6053507.]
- Historisch-Biographisches Lexikon der Schweiz
[Historical-biographical Dictionary of
Switzerland contains comments on larger families
(including extinct ones, not mentioned in the Familiennamenbuch
above), often giving details on important family
members. The HBLS is available from your
local Family History Center (films 1181541-3 or
- Register zu den Genealogien der Stadtzürcher
Geschlechter / compiled by Mario von Moos.
Fehraltorf: [M.v. Moos], 1977. viii, 21 leaves ;
22 cm. [Index of the Genealogies of the City of
- Schweizerisches Geschlechterbuch [Book of
Swiss Lineages. Contains complete descendants
lists of usually fairly famous families. May be
found in FHL microfilms 1573100 - 1573103].
[Return to top of Page]
In most cantons the Kantonsarchiv (state archive) will
have at least microfilms of all church records still in
existence - unfortunately in most cases they will not do
research for you.
State Archives (addresses of all state
archives with short descriptions in German)
- Neuchâtel State Archives (in French)
- Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt
(has information on families in the Basel area)
[Return to top of Page]
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